Monday, January 30, 2012

Summer Sewing Challenge

If any of your free time is spent crafting or creating in some manner it is likely you have a stash of materials for your chosen craft or crafts. We may have grand plans and ideas for all those treasures, but other things have a way of eating up crafting time and those plans don't materialize. Then there are the magical powers which one or two pieces of fabric have, you know, how they quickly multiply all by themselves. Then before you know it the stash is huge.

Jennifer at Milk and Honey Mommy, decided she was going to do something about her empty closet and fabric stash. Her plan is to sew her way to a new summer wardrobe and use up some of her fabric stash in the process. So she decided to invite others to sew along with her. Well, not exactly along with her, but to sew in the next few months and share the fruit of our labors via special blog posts. I think this is a great idea, because it is much more fun to do things with others and knowing other people know I have committed to something keeps me on my toes and hopefully will motivate me to finish some projects. Sewing to Summer will continue until June 20th, the start of summer with a check in post and link up each month along the way.

My first project for the Sewing Challenge will be to make a nightgown for my daughter.

So if you sew and would like to make a dent in that stash, check out the challenge at Milk and Honey Mommy and sew along.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Homeschool Mothers Journal Weekly Review 1/28

In my life this week…
I can't believe it has been a month since I posted for HSMJ. Time has just flown by.
One evening this week I went to a girls night out. Chocolate was present.

In our homeschool this week…
My children have been interested in learning about economics, so we have been reading several books and started making an economics lapbook. Since I have been able to find one on a level appropriate for them I decided I would make our own. So far we have completed three mini books.

Both of my children have started several using a couple new online programs which I will be reviewing in a couple weeks. They are really enjoying them.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
We haven't been out much this week, except for piano lessons, the library, and grocery store.

My favorite thing this week was…
Another week of winter with no snow. We have had plenty of rain though.

What’s working/not working for us…
We have had a terrible time getting back into a routine after Christmas. 

Questions/thoughts I have…
I am trying to add some substance to our history program for my 5th grader because there just isn't much with STOW to challenge her. I haven't had a whole lot of success though.  Our library doesn't have many resources on the ancients at this level.

Things I’m working on…
Going through things in the basement. Sorting through curriculum type stuff I have to see if it is going to work for us in the future or not.

I'm reading...
Cookbooks. I am so tired of the same old foods, but I have a very limited budget and discriminating palates to feed. 

I’m cooking…
Cranberry muffins.  I have cooked meals this week, but nothing has been overly memorable. 

Thank you to Sue for hosting HSMJ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

M is for Music

Link up to the ABC's

It's about time I'm finally getting back into the swing of ABC's of Homeschooling, it is time for the letter M.

M is for Music

Music in our homeschool falls into two categories; Making Music and Music Appreciation.

Both of my children are currently taking piano lessons. Daughter has taken lessons for about two and a half years and progress through several levels of materials.  She is currently working on learning several pieces by Bach.  This last year she has had the opportunity to play on a radio program as well as in front of several audiences. Son just began lessons this last summer and is doing well. They both had the opportunity to play several hymns before the Childrens' Christmas program at our church.

They have a great teacher who is an accomplished musician as well as a caring teacher. 

For music appreciation we have spent a lot of time listening to classical music form the Classical Kids collection. We all enjoy the stories as well as the music.  We have listened to them so frequently that the kids are able to recognize the composer of many of the pieces they have heard on the CD's. They are also very familiar with the stories. 

The last couple years we have also had the privilege of listening to several different CD's from Maestro Classics. While these also feature classic songs, the music doesn't fall in the category of classical and they focus more on a story then a particular composer. Maestro Classics does have a CD about Handel, but I haven't had the opportunity to listen to it. 

The other part of music education I have tried to incorporate is studying the composers.  We have done some learning about Mozart,Tchaikovsky, and Bach. This involves reading some resources, listening to several selections they wrote, and learning from several websites devoted to teaching kids about music. We have done some notebooking with this.  Someday they will each have a notebook of information about many composers that I hope they will enjoy looking through and remembering the enjoyment they had listening to a variety of music.

Some of the websites we have enjoyed for music are:
San Fransisco Orchestra
Additionally, I would like to spend some time learning about various instruments, particularity those found in the orchestra. Both of the children have expressed interest in learning more about what instruments are found in the orchestra. 

Thanks to  Dawn at The Momma Knows for hosting ABC's of Homeschooling.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Learn Our History: Time Cycle Academy TOS Review

Learn Our History: Time Cycle Academy

100 Mill Plain Road Danbury, CT 06811

Learn Our History is a relatively new company, begun last year, by Co Founder Mike Huckabee, with a mission to help young people become excited about and learn American history in a fun and unique manner.They desire to help young people learn about America's great accomplishments and be proud of their country. To accomplish that goal they have developed a series of fact based, non biased videos highlighting important events and great people in American History.


Learn Our History:Time Cycle Academy is a series of DVD videos teaching American History. The Time Cycle Academy participants are a group of 5 school students who have created a time machine out of bicycles and use it to visit locations and events in America's history. While visiting the past the students don't just observe the events, but interact with the participants as well.Pictures and bio's of each of the time traveling students can be found at Meet the Time Travelers.

We had the opportunity to review a DVD, The Birth of a Revolution, and a streaming video, 9/11 and The War on Terror, from Learn Our History. Each of these episodes begins with the students in a history class and the teacher introduces the topic and gives the students an assignment. The teacher doesn't give the class much information about the topic, but mentions several key points they should be on the look out for and tells them to do research and see what they find about the topic. The students then get to work by discussing their topic, putting their limited information and destination into their hand held computer, and  getting on their time cycles. The time cycles whisk them away to the location and times where the relevant events occurred. Throughout the video a bar at the bottom of the screen shows the location of the event on the globe (as part of the Time Cycle Academy logo) as well as writing out the location and date.

Videos in the Time Cycle Academy series feature highlights in America History from Columbus to September 11th. Events highlighted include Columbus, Origins of World War II, and Ronald Reagen in addition to the two I previewed currently available. Upcoming topics include Lewis and Clark, winning WWII, The Space Race, The Cold War, American Women, World War I and two additional volumes about the late 1770's. The last two, along with The Birth of a Revolution, comprise a trilogy chronicling the beginning of the US. These are scheduled to be released throughout 2012. Pictures of all the video covers are at Learn Our History.

As of this time, Learn Our History:Time Cycle Academy DVD's has an introductory special. Columbus is available for $9.95 and The Birth of a Revolution is free with shipping and handling. This offer can be found at Learn Our History.  
Another offer on the site is for the Columbus video for $9.95 plus shipping and 4 free gifts. This offer can be found at the sign up page at Learn Our History.
It appears new DVD's are available on a subscription type basis for $11.95 plus shipping and handling. New DVD's are scheduled to come out once a month. Customers are notified before the DVD is sent and given the opportunity to decline purchasing that particular episode.This also includes free streaming access which allows on line viewing at the Learn Our History site.

The mailer in which I received the DVD includes background information and  facts about the time featured in the video.  It also mentions additional games, study guides, and discussion topics are available at the website, but I was not able to find them. These may be available only to subscribers.

My Thoughts

We really liked this DVD and online episode. They are paced in a manner to share important details, yet the move along to keep the viewers interest. We enjoyed The Birth of a Revolution and were frustrated it left us hanging for the next video in the series which isn't even available yet.

I appreciate how the authors of these movies stick pretty much to the facts of the situation and don't get into much interpretation. Interpretation is easy to find in many publications, both print and media, but simple unbiased facts are harder to find and written in a way for children to understand. The treatment of Sept 11 and the people behind the attacks is factual and fair.The Sept 11 episode did a nice job of relating the events to a local community and family. After the events of that day our country came together to serve and help others as well as support our Armed Forces. These is highlighted in both the introduction and conclusion of this episode. I was impressed with how the feelings of many at that time as well as around the tenth anniversary were included.

The student time travelers are of varied ethnic backgrounds as you would find in many areas. There is also a range of personalities presented by each of the characters.Again, these are fairly typical of what you would find in real life.

I like the notation on the bottom of the screen showing the location and date for the particular event. The digital map on the computer is also beneficial to help kids place the event in a location. I think this is a great way to sneak in a little geography and make it meaningful. My 7 year old picked up on the various locations on the maps.

My 10 year old daughter thought they were very interesting and liked how they brought the people, events, and locations to life. My seven year old thought they were awesome. I was not able to find an age range on the packaging or website, but I would say these would be interesting to elementary and junior high age students.

For my children the biggest disappointment was how short they are.I too, think they are too short because they are so engaging, I was left wondering where the time went. I think both of the videos we viewed ran about a half hour, but I did not time them.

When I first viewed these movies I was a little surprised at the way the kids spoke to each other and the slogan on the shirt of one young man. Then I listened to and looked at the children and teens around me when we went out in the community. The conversation between the video kids and their style of dress is tame compared to what I was seeing and hearing in real life.

My biggest disappointment is the manner in which the DVD was mailed. I received the DVD for review in a cardboard DVD mailer sealed with two plastic seals. to keep it closed. However, when I received it both of the seals were open and the DVD was half way out of the slot. I am thankful the DVD was still inside when I received the mailer.

Other TOS Crew members also had the opportunity to review these programs. Find links to what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a free DVD and online access to the mentioned episodes in order to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stories in Music The Story of Swan Lake by Maestro Classics


Maestro Classics Stories in Song
The Story of Swan Lake

CD $16.98
MP3 download $9.98

Swan Lake is written for children age 5 and older and their families.

Maestro Classics Stories in Music introduce children to classical music and stories, placing equal importance on both. Stories in Music are more than just CD's.They are almost mini unit studies, drawing together information from many areas to give the listener/student a well rounded, in depth, full experience.They make it exciting and interesting to explore some of the finer things in life at a level appropriate for children.

Maestro Classics Stories in Music The Story of Swan Lake on CD features the music composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky for the ballet of the same name. Music on the CD is played by the London Philharmonic.Swan Lake is the story of a young prince who has reached the age to wed. He is content with his life as it is and questions how he can wed someone he does not love. During the ball at which he is to announce his choice of bride he skips out and meets a swan who used to be a princess. She tells him of the spell placed on her and how it can be reversed.He promises to help her and claim her for his own. Yet, as in most fairy tales something happens and his plans go awry. He is tricked and will not be able to help the swan, but in his grief he is still able to spend time with her.

Additional tracks on the CD contains biographical information about Tchaikovsky, a brief segment about the music, Speed Metal Swan which is a heavy metal arrangement, and a little ditty entitled "Tchaikovsky Wrote a Great Ballet" and a sing along segment with performance tips for the same song. The total playing time of the CD is just under one hour.

The CD also comes with a 24 page booklet featuring puzzles, activities, and information. The booklet includes a dot to dot,maze, and the story in rebus form for the youngest listeners. Older readers/listeners can complete a crossword puzzle as well.Biographical facts and a picture of Tchaikovsky are also found in the booklet. Biographies of the conductor/composer, narrators and guitar player are also found in the same booklet. You will also find the words and music to the little ditty on the CD in this booklet. There is also a music theory activity explaining the concepts of major and minor in music. The difference between acoustic and electric guitar are explained as well. This booklet is sized to fit inside the tri-fold CD case.

Maestro Classics varied line of Stories in Music CD's feature literature selections as well as Classical music. Some of the stories they bring alive through music include Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Casey at the Bat, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Peter and the Wolf.

The Stories in Music CD's and booklets are educational by themselves, but if you are inclined to explore the topics even further, numerous in-depth lesson plans and ideas are available on Maestro Classics website.These lessons plans cover many subjects and include experiences for different learning styles.

My Thoughts

Last year I had had the opportunity to review Maestro Classics Peter and the Wolf. So I was thrilled when I learned we had the opportunity to review Swan Lake. Once again we were delighted with this professional arrangement and recording of a great piece of music. Maestro Classics takes a great piece of music and makes it educational while keeping it fun and exciting. Maestro Classics makes it easy and enjoyable to enrich a childs life with classical music and timeless stories.

We all really loved listening to Swan Lake.I had heard about the story, but didn't know the plot or anything about it except it was a ballet. By listening to this CD not only did I (we) get to learn the story we were also able to hear and experience the beautiful music. I was concerned my 7 year old son might not enjoy this recording, but I was wrong. He liked the story and didn't even realize it was a ballet. He especially enjoyed the Speed Metal Swan selection and was disappointed it wasn't longer. My 10 year old daughter loved every minute of the CD. I think I can honestly say I loved it as much as they did.

Both of my children looked through the booklet, but did not do any of the writing activities. They are not big fans of pencil puzzles, except my son does like mazes.  He has also liked rebus stories and thought it was cute. His favorite parts of the booklet was the information about the guitars and rock professor. No surprise there!  I like the simple sing a long score in the center of the book.  I know that my daughter would have no trouble playing that on the piano.

I think any family, not just homeschoolers, would find Stories in Music interesting and exciting.Any of the Stories in Music would be great to listen to in the car or for a family night activity. If money was not an object, I would purchase the rest of the CD's in the collection for my family. I know we will be listening to Swan Lake many times.

I believe listening to and learning good music is a valuable life experience, but just choosing a random CD to listen to does not necessarily help the listener know much about the piece or composer. With this CD and booklet, Maestro Classics has put a lot of information together in one source to make learning about music and literature simple.

Other members of the TOS Crew also had the opportunity to review The Story of Swan Lake. See what they had to say at the Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the CD to use so I could write this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Z Guides to the Movies Luther TOS Review


Z Guides to the Movies are written to help students become more informed movie viewers. They give guidelines to help become a more critical watcher. As our society becomes more digital it is necessary to learn how to critical evaluate what is delivered to us by various forms of electronic media. Besides, isn't is fun to add a movie to our regular studies for a different type of activity? The Z Guides to the Movies helps a parent/teacher make the movie into a learning experience as well.

I was given the opportunity to use and review my choice of the Z Guides study guide.I choose to review the study guide for the movie Luther from 2003. This guide has a grade level of High School.

Z guides to the Movies are designed to be used over the course of a week. All the guides contain ten activities covering a wide variety of topics related to the movie. Many of these activities use research and writing skills, while others use research and are more artistic in their culminating activity. Each activity has a scoring rubric for student and teacher guidance.

These are the activities you will find in the Luther Z Guides to the Movies:

Day 1
Activity 1: Movie Review Questions
Activity 2: A Deeper Look at the Reformers

Day 2
Activity 3: Life of Martin Luther
Activity 4: Luther Word Search

Day 3
Activity 5: The Tongue and the Pen
Activity 6: Catholic Counter-Revolution

Day 4
Activity 7: Luther’s 95 Theses  and the Gutenberg Press
Activity 8: Relics and Symbols of Frederick the Wise

Day 5
Activity 9: Worldview Activity
Activity 10: The Filmmaker’s Art             

In addition to these activities, the Z Guide to the Movies also contains a topic overview, movie synopsis, several questions for family discussion and an answer key.

This Z Guide to the Movies Luther is scheduled to be released by the publisher, Zeezok, in February. Due to this fact I do not have a price available. Other Z guides to the Movies are currently available. Their price is $12.99. Check Zeezok's website for available titles. They also sell movies for some of their other guides as well.

Zeezok also publishes many other education resources covering history, government, music, and literature. They also have eBook publications available as well.

My Thoughts

My 10-year-old daughter and I watched the Luther movie and worked through portions of the guide together. The first day's questions are basic comprehension questions. Application questions come later in the activities.

Even though my children are not high school age, I was interested in this guide as we have watched the movie several times and was looking forward to a more in-depth study. I believe the activities are on a level that my daughter could handle even though she is below the target age.

However, I do have to say I was disappointed in this movie guide. The movie clearly chronicles Luthers' struggle with Roman Catholic doctrine and his searching Scripture for answers to his questions.  His answers are presented in the movie, but they are not addressed or studied in this guide at all.

The movie closes with the meeting in Augsburg in 1530. Presented at this meeting was a document which is known as the Augsburg Confession, which contained the princes' declarations of beliefs. The movie guide also does not address this historically significant and still important confession of the Lutheran Church. It only refers to the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which was the incorporation of the Augsburg Confession into the public policy of the Holy Roman Empire. The guide immediately takes issue with that document as being intolerant and then introduces Zwinglianism and Calvinism, neither of which play a substantive role in the Luther movie. After all, the guide is about that movie, right?

The movie review questions are very basic, factual questions to check the students viewing and basic understanding of what was presented in the movie. While the guide suggests answering them during the movie, I selected to use them for review when we were done.The problem with the questions is that they do not follow the clear progression of the movie plot. The plot starts with Luther and an angry, thunderbolt-hurling God. It moves through Luther's search for a merciful, loving God. It turns at the point where Luther puts that search into practice with the 95 Theses: Why doesn't the Pope just let everyone out of Purgatory if he can? Why would a loving God commit a shake-down?

That public conflict, together with the overreaction of the Peasants' War and the Roman Catholic zeal to burn heretics, carries the film to the resolution at Augsburg, the Bible in the hands of the people, and a new world order, of which Luther is the preeminent reformer. Five hundred years of church reform were attempted before Luther, but he was the first to be successful and not die for his beliefs (e.g., Zwingli). The movie is clear on Luther's position, while the guide and its questions appear more interested in minutiae and taking issue with the movie.

The activities studying other reformers takes quite a while to be done properly, yet this topic does not have much relevance to the actual movie. Personally I would have rather seen an activity having to do with the Augsburg Confession and what it contains. Free versions of the document exist online. That would be more relevant to the topic of the movie, rather than learning about reformers who lived both long before Luther (Hus) and whose activity did not flourish until after Luther (Calvin, Knox). Wasn't the movie about . . . Luther?

The third activity, Life of Martin Luther, is a great idea to help the student learn more about the man and his work outside of the relatively short time presented in the movie. This is to be accomplished with outside (Internet and print) resources. We did not do this as such now as we had done something similar several months ago while we talked about Luther in conjunction with his birthday. We have also been reading recently the book Luther: Biography of a Reformer that is a companion to this movie.

Activity 5 involves designing a cartoon or woodcut like those used in Luther's time and writing a commentary about one of Luther's hymns.The student is directed to use print and Internet sources. The first part of this assignment is a concern especially since several of the items I found when doing an Internet search lead to images which, while quite common in Luther's day, would be considered vulgar today. Many of these images some parents may not wish their students to view let alone draw their own version.

Activity 6 focuses on the Catholic or Counter Reformation. On this topic, as with a number of topics in the guide, there are wordings that either suggest or actually make substantive errors. One sees with regard to the year 1580 that "the lines of Catholic and Protestant lands in Europe were drawn." That neither takes into account the adoption of the Christian Book of Concord in that year—something the guide fails to mention, even though it is the official adoption of the Lutheran doctrinal position (—and the fact of the Thirty Years War (1618–48). It does not take the religious wars in France, the revolution in The Netherlands, and the unsettled state of Bohemia into account. The guide also does not distinguish clearly between the political fact of territorial churches and the doctrinal beliefs of different Protestant groups when it speaks of Catholics stopping the spread of Protestantism.

I also found activity 8 to be disturbing. It directs the student to design some type of relic or symbol for the collection of Frederick the Wise. This is something which Frederick spoke out against in the movie after he was presented with the Golden Rose. Designing something which was spoken against in the movie seems to be against one of the messages the movie was trying to get across.

This same activity also suggests designing a stained glass window to illustrate a bible story. Stained glass windows have no connection to the relics. They were used to teach the illiterate about the Bible, not to provide an object for veneration or devotion.They were also criticized by Protestants like Carlstadt and Zwingli who opposed Luther. This and other aspects of the guide raise my suspicion that the author of the guide was not sympathetic to the subject matter.

The Worldview activity (9) dealing with Reformation martyrs also does not necessarily fit with the movie either as several of the people suggested were quite out of order. Robert Barnes and Patrick Hamilton, along with William Tyndale, have considerable Luther provenance. Thomas More and Thomas Cranmer were both executed by Henry VIII, yet More was a Catholic foe of Luther's while Cranmer was sympathetic of Luther. All this shows was that Henry VIII would start a church and kill many people in order to further his dynasty. What does that really say to the Luther movie or about Protestantism? How would the guide handle John Calvin's burning of Servetus? What about the fact that Luther was against this sort of activity?

Henry opposed Luther until around 1534–36, so he would not have figured into the movie. One sees no mention of martyrs like Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch (portrayed by the fictional martyred "Ulrich" in the film—likely merged with aspects of Luther's supporter Ulrich von Hutten—and misspelled "Ulrick" in the guide). One can find free online sources about Lutheran martyrs and many people portrayed in the movie at It appears that the author of the guide looked no further than Foxe's Book of Martyrs. That seems a bit culturally dissonant from the movie, as if the integrity of the movie did not count.

To me it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to spend all the time (2 hours) watching the movie and then not fully study what the movie is about. There is nothing in the study guide relating to Luther's search for a merciful God, how he grew to understand the Gospel, how he considered translating the New Testament, and his attempts to help the leaders of the Catholic Church see what Scripture says. Thus the whole theme of the movie is missed in this study guide.

An additional resource I would have liked to seen in this guide was a bibliography of selected titles and websites which would be helpful for the outside research required to complete the activities. Due to the size of the web and the many resources it contains it is often difficult for a student to determine authenticity of information found on the web. Some Wikipedia articles are good, while others are not so good. Having a list of possible starting points would have be helpful. The Pitts Theology Library ( can be a place to find woodcuts, for example, but it can also have mature images.

If an educator is using Luther the movie and movie guide during a general study of the reformation and reformers to teach about the time period and events, this guide may be a helpful choice. If the goal is to learn about Luther and his work using the movie guide then I feel people will be disappointed and mislead by a guide which seems ignorant of or slightly hostile to the movie and its message.

I also don't believe that the differences in the age of my children and the suggested age for the guide made these differences. I believe these issues stem more from incomplete and inaccurate statements in the guide.

Zeezok also published "Z Guides to the Movies" for many other movies, time periods, and ages. Other TOS Crew members had the opportunity to review movie guides of the choice. To learn which movie guides others reviewed please visit the Crew Blog.


Disclosure: I received a free download copy of the product in order to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other way.  All opinions expressed here are solely my own.